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2023: The year in review

The King and Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace following the coronation (Leon Neal/PA)
The King and Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace following the coronation (Leon Neal/PA)

A prime minister battling to turn round his party’s fortunes in the polls, economic gloom, industrial strife and a growing rift between the Sussexes and working royals have all characterised 2023.

But the year has not been short of dramatic events and developments, from the Coronation of a new king to a devastating war in Israel and Gaza.

The year kicked off with the release of the Duke of Sussex’s explosive memoir Spare, which hit shelves in Spain days before the official release date.

In it, Harry made claims about his family and alleged his brother – the Prince of Wales – physically attacked him during a row.

Duke of Sussex autobiography – Spare
Caroline Lennon, the first customer to purchase a copy of Spare, leaves Waterstones Piccadilly (James Manning/PA)

At Westminster, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attempted to restore a sense of stability after a dramatic 2022 which saw his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss ejected from office by their own MPs.

But he was soon hit by a sleaze row when his party chairman Nadhim Zahawi was forced to resign for failing to declare that HMRC was investigating his tax affairs on becoming Mr Johnson’s chancellor last year.

Strikes by nurses, ambulance workers and train drivers rumbled on from the beginning of the year – with teachers voting for industrial action later in January.

Industrial strike
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Pat Cullen joins members on the picket line outside University College Hospital (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In Lancashire, a huge search began after mother-of-two Nicola Bulley went missing while walking her dog in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre on January 27.

The case attracted huge attention, but was mired by online misinformation and police blunders before her body was found in the river Wyre the following month. An inquest in June found she had drowned accidentally.

Nicola Bulley inquest
Nicola Bulley vanished after dropping her daughters at school (Family handout/PA)

In February, Nicola Sturgeon stunned Scotland by suddenly announcing she would resign as first minister.

She told reporters at the time she was stepping down for personal reasons, but later she and husband Peter Murrell were arrested in connection with an investigation into SNP finances, leading to dramatic scenes with police tents outside their suburban Glasgow home.

In England, Mr Sunak hailed his Windsor Framework deal to reduce checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky visited the UK earlier in February and the country’s support for the war-torn nation remained constant throughout the year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visit to UK
Rishi Sunak welcomes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at Stanstead Airport (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)

Plans to deal with the NHS backlog were thrown into further disarray when junior doctors announced they would join other health workers on picket lines, with NHS consultants joining them later in the year.

The Government was in more difficulty when, on the first day of March, the Daily Telegraph published former health secretary Matt Hancock’s pandemic-era WhatsApp messages.

The newspaper led with the claim Mr Hancock had ignored the advice of Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty to test all residents going into English care homes for the virus in April 2020.

Soon after, the BBC came under fire when it asked Gary Lineker to step back from presenting Match Of The Day after he compared language used by the Government on asylum policy to 1930s Germany.

Pundits including Ian Wright and Alan Shearer refused to appear on the show without Lineker, before the former England footballer was reinstated after three days.

Gary Lineker comments on Illegal Migration Bill
Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker outside his home (Lucy North/PA)

Later that month, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered his budget amidst a gloomy economic backdrop.

The squeeze on household finances has continued as GDP growth remains sluggish while successive interest rate rises, from 3.5% in January to 5.25% in November, have hit homeowners.

But there has been some relief this year with inflation falling from 10.1% in January to 4.6% in November, while wholesale energy prices have also tumbled.

In April, Dominic Raab resigned as deputy prime minister and justice secretary after an inquiry found he bullied civil servants.

Meanwhile diplomats raced to organise evacuation flights to rescue Britons stranded in Sudan after the country descended into civil war.

May began in full pomp and ceremony with the coronation of the King and Queen during a service steeped in medieval ritual.

The eyes of the world descended on Westminster Abbey as Charles was anointed with holy oil before St Edward’s Crown was placed on his head in the first coronation ceremony for 70 years.

King Charles III coronation
Charles after being crowned by The Archbishop of Canterbury (Aaron Chown/PA)

That afternoon, Charles and Camilla appeared on Buckingham Palace’s balcony in robes and their crowns to wave to cheering crowds who had braved downpours to see them.

As this was happening, a total of 52 anti-monarchy protesters were arrested – including the founder of the Republic protest group, Graham Smith, who could not head a protest in Trafalgar Square.

Two days of celebrations followed as the nation took part in the coronation Big Lunch and Big Help Out, while Take That and Katy Perry headlined the coronation concert.

King Charles III coronation
Prince George tries archery while joining volunteers as part of the Big Help Out (Daniel Leal/PA)

Later in May, ITV was rocked after it emerged veteran This Morning presenter Phillip Schofield had had an affair with a much younger male colleague, which forced him to step down from his job.

In June, Mr Johnson resigned from his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat after MPs on the privileges committee found he had misled parliament over lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.

Soon after, the nation was united in grief after a knifeman stabbed students Barnaby Webber and Grace O’Malley-Kumar and school caretaker Ian Coates to death in a spate of attacks in Nottingham.

For a few days later that month, the nation’s attention turned to the fate of the Titan submersible which had gone missing with three Britons on board during a mission to see the remains of the Titanic off Newfoundland, Canada.

Adventurer Hamish Harding and father and son Shahzada and Suleman Dawood were killed alongside US national Stockton Rush and Frenchman Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

Titanic tourist vessel missing
The OceanGate Expeditions submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic (American Photo Archive/Alamy)

Another broadcaster became embroiled in controversy in July after The Sun published claims that BBC presenter Huw Edwards had paid a young person for sexual images, with the money allegedly funding the youngster’s drug habit.

The newspaper did not initially name the presenter for legal reasons before his wife revealed the allegations were about him.

In the same month, the Conservatives lost two by-elections heavily but clung on in Mr Johnson’s old seat by campaigning hard against the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone.

The by-election came just as Britons were scrambling to return from the Greek island of Rhodes, which had been ravaged by wildfires.

At the end of the month, Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey was cleared at Southwark Crown Court of a string of alleged sex attacks on younger men which were said to have taken place between 2001 and 2013.

Kevin Spacey court case
Actor Kevin Spacey speaks to the media outside Southwark Crown Court (Lucy North/PA)

In August, the Government announced the first migrants would be boarding the Bibby Stockholm barge harboured in Portland, Dorset, but they had to be evacuated within days after legionella bacteria was found on the vessel.

Nurse Lucy Letby was unmasked as the UK’s most prolific serial killer of children after being found guilty of murdering seven babies and trying to kill six others following a 10-month trial at Manchester Crown Court.

The Countess of Chester Hospital, where she carried out the killing spree while working there between 2015 and 2016, faced heavy criticism over why she was not stopped and the Government has announced a statutory public inquiry into the case.

In sport, the Lionesses had a spectacular run of wins in the Women’s World Cup in Australia, but were unlucky in the final when they lost 1-0 to Spain.

Fans watch Spain v England
England fans react during a screening of the Fifa Women’s World Cup 2023 final between England and Spain (Lucy North/PA)

Parents’ plans for the return to school in September were thrown into chaos when a dangerous form of concrete was found in scores of classrooms just days before pupils were set to go back.

Royals marked a year since the death of the late Queen on September 8 at services across the UK, while Charles released a short message and an unreleased photograph of her from 1968.

Royal visit to Wales
Flowers placed by the Prince and Princess of Wales are pictured next to a portrait of the late Queen during a service at St Davids Cathedral (Toby Melville/PA)

In the showbiz world, the Sunday Times published allegations of sexual assault, rape and emotional abuse against comedian Russell Brand, which he denies.

October saw Mr Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer both outline their pitch to the electorate in what could be their last party conference speeches before an election.

The Prime Minister announced the northern leg of HS2 would be scrapped alongside plans to ban smoking and reform A-levels in a bid to pitch himself as a change candidate.

The Labour conference, where a protester threw glitter over Sir Keir, was overshadowed by unfolding horror in Israel and Gaza after Hamas militants killed more than 1,000 Israelis on October 7 and took hundreds of others hostage.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Pictures of loved ones who have been captured by Hamas on display during a Defend Israeli Democracy UK press conference (Lucy North/PA)

Hundreds of thousands of Britons took to the streets to join pro-Palestinian protests.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman became increasingly vocal in her opposition to the demonstrations which she branded “hate marches”, while the Government unsuccessfully pushed for one march through London on Armistice Day to be banned.

Israel-Hamas conflict
People at a rally in Trafalgar Square (Victoria Jones/PA)

Away from the conflict, Storm Babet caused devastation across much of the country while this year looks set to be the hottest on record, according to the Met Office.

By November, Mrs Braverman’s increasingly frequent and vocal comments on the marches had become too much for Mr Sunak – who sacked her from the Cabinet.

James Cleverly moved from the the Foreign Office into her old role, while former prime minister David Cameron made a dramatic return to politics as Foreign Secretary with a seat in the House of Lords.

Cabinet reshuffle
Former prime minister David Cameron leaving Downing Street (James Manning/PA)

But any sense of a reset proved short-lived for Mr Sunak as Supreme Court judges ruled Government plans to send small boat migrants to Rwanda unlawful just days later and net migration reached a record high.

Away from politics, the year ended almost how it began when another royal book, this time Endgame by Omid Scobie, caused a huge row when a Dutch translation named two royals who were said to have asked what colour skin Prince Archie would have before he was born.

By December, the Prime Minister was facing an increasingly ungovernable party as different factions branded his new plans to get Rwanda flights off the ground as too tough and not tough enough.